Monarch Watch Blog

Monarch Watch Job Opportunity

18 February 2016 | Author: Monarch Watch

Kansas Biological Survey seeks a half-time Monarch Waystation Education Coordinator to provide support & maintenance to an ongoing outreach program. This one year, half-time position is part of Monarch Watch’s milkweed conservation initiatives. Duties will include creating and coordinating a new outreach program for schools and public libraries, based on Monarch Watch’s Monarch Waystation project. The main focus of the Monarch Waystation program is public education directed to an understanding of the monarch migration and the need to conserve the habitats that support the monarch population. Monarch Watch is an outreach program based on the monarch butterfly within the Kansas Biological Survey. Application deadline is 03/06/16.

See complete job details and apply online at

Disclaimer: The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information in the university’s programs and activities. Retaliation is also prohibited by university policy. The following persons have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies and are the Title IX coordinators for their respective campuses: Executive Director of the Office of Institutional Opportunity & Access,, 1246 West Campus Road, Room 153A, Lawrence, KS 66045, 785-864-6414, 711 TTY (for the Lawrence, Edwards, Parsons, Yoder, and Topeka campuses); Director, Equal Opportunity Office, Mail Stop 7004, 4330 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Fairway, KS 66205, 913-588-8011, 711 TTY (for the Wichita, Salina, and Kansas City, Kansas medical center campuses).

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Creating a Monarch Highway

1 December 2015 | Author: Chip Taylor

Monarch Butterfly Recovery Plan: Part Two
by Chip Taylor, Monarch Watch

My first attempt at outlining a monarch recovery plan was written in March 2014 ( Although monarch conservation has been discussed at federal and state levels as well as within and among NGOs for >18 months, no specific habitat restoration plans have emerged from these discussions. By “specific” I mean the where, when, and how of restoration with consideration of all the capacity and implementation issues mentioned in the earlier text. These discussions are moving in the right direction, but a little too slowly for me. If you read the earlier blog article, you might recall that I pointed out that the annual rate of habitat loss for monarchs is probably 1-1.5 million acres. This means that for every year we don’t offset the loss of at least a million acres of habitat, we can expect the monarch population to decline further.

I have put together a brief memo (below) describing a concept for how we might configure I-35 as a Monarch Highway. This memo is intended to be a starting point for discussion. Although the memo describes how we might proceed with habitat restoration for monarchs and pollinators along our highways, modifications of this plan could be applied to other right of ways (ROWs), as well as public and private lands.

Notice that I have used the word “we” in the above and you will find “we” scattered throughout the memo. I’m using the word in the collective sense. I’m assuming that WE are all in this together.

The memo is brief and many details are missing. Before adopting this plan, details such as specific costs, planting protocols, crew sizes, site preparation that fits different soils and plant communities, planting times, and maintenance schedules (including watering) would have to be established. Further, all the cost estimates are based on those that would be incurred on private lands for projects of similar scope. State and federal agency costs could be minimal but then again, they could double the cost of the entire operation depending on their level of involvement. Firming up the overall estimated costs of the project would be one of our first priorities.

If we assume that the I-35 concept is of general interest, we still have to answer a series of significant questions before initiating the next steps.

Here are a few of these issues:

1) Assuming that strong centralized leadership is needed, what NGO or agency would take the lead?

2) How would we negotiate our way through the various state and federal regulations that apply to such a project?

3) Many miles along I-35 are not amenable to restoration and restoration sites need to be selected carefully. This is a reality that would require creation of site selection protocols and perhaps teams trained to identify high quality sites.

4) Working along I-35, especially if volunteers are involved, would require special attention to safety protocols. Alternatively, the planting could be carried out by state personnel or firms working under contract.

5) There are budget issues as well and they could be complicated and crippling unless the process is thought through very carefully.

Restoration of milkweeds and nectar sources for monarchs and pollinators along I-35

Over the last decade monarch numbers have spiraled downward due to the loss of habitat. The very existence of the monarch migration may be threatened. Studies of the annual cycle of the monarch population indicate that the most important region supporting this species is a corridor of milkweed and nectar resources that ranges from Texas to Minnesota. This passageway has been referred to as the I-35 corridor since this Interstate Highway spans most of the region. While it is clear that restoring the monarch population will require habitat restoration on a massive scale, it is also apparent that this effort needs a symbol that will continue to engage the public as well as state and federal agencies in monarch conservation. I-35 can be that symbol.

This brief memo outlines a plan to create milkweed/native plant/monarch habitats along the entire 1400-mile length of I-35 that can become known as “The Monarch Highway”. In the paragraphs that follow, I have outlined a 5-year plan that includes planting options, costs and potential funding. An important component of the plan involves monitoring of both the planting and the use of these sites by pollinators and monarchs. Depending on the funding available, the project is scalable with total costs ranging from a minimum of 3.5 million dollars to over $10 million.

Planting Options

There are two planting options: plugs and seed mixes. For costs and capacity considerations, I’m going to use two area units: 1) 10’x100’ strips for plugs and 2) acres for seed mixes.


A 10’x100’ plug plot would be populated with 800 plugs of 16 species (including two milkweeds and some over-seeding with native grasses) at a cost of $2,500 each or $3.5 million to establish one plot for each mile of the 1,400-mile length of I -35. The costs would include site preparation, plugs, signage, and associated fuel and administrative costs. I’m assuming that citizens would do the planting and that no labor costs other than a supervisory cost would be involved. Two such plots per mile would be preferred for a cost of $7 million.

Producing the 2-3 million plugs required for two plug strips per mile is presently within the capacity of restoration nurseries – they would just need the orders. We would start in the north where there is more capacity (seeds and nurseries) and support for restoration and work toward the south in successive years.

Seed mixes

The cost of restoring 1 acre per mile with seed mixes would range from $2,000 – $3,600 per acre for totals ranging from $2.8 – $5 million. The variance in the cost is related to the species richness of the seed mixes and costs of specific seeds as well as site preparation and planting methods. Seed mixes are more problematic for several reasons – lower success rates, scarcity of seeds appropriate for certain regions of the country, and the need for specialized equipment to prepare the sites and drill in the seeds. There is currently enough seed to start such a project in some areas of MN and IA but seeds are more limited in other areas. Citizens would not be involved in the establishment of such sites but could be involved with their maintenance through “Adopt A Habitat” programs (weeding, etc.).


Monitoring plant survival and recording insects and other wildlife in restored plots could be done by teams of interns in each of the six states along the highway. Generally, if you create a diverse plant community, you eventually establish a diverse insect community. We would need proof of concept and assessment of the relative success of different plant species as well as management practices. The effectiveness of these plots as habitats for pollinators and monarchs would also be evaluated. These monitoring efforts are relatively straightforward and it shouldn’t be too difficult to establish the numbers of plants and pollinators in these plots.


Once plants or seeds are in the ground, we will determine the success of each restoration effort. We will monitor each planting in the fall and the following spring for the survival of plugs of each species. Seeding operations will also be monitored for plant survival. Success rates will be assessed for each planting and maintenance protocol. Threshold standards would be established to determine whether sites require replanting with plugs or need reseeding.


Small bees visiting the restored sites can be sampled with “pan traps”, e.g., blue and yellow plastic bowls. These bowls are placed on the ground near blooming plants within the habitats for short timed intervals. The bowls contain a ¼ inch of soapy water (or some other fluid). Bees are attracted to the color and dive into the liquid and drown. At the end of the sampling period the bees are removed from the fluid and stored in “hand sanitizer” (or similar preservative). The name of the collector, location, date, time and conditions are recorded for each sample and the bees are sorted by species and identified later. A recent publication shows that there is no measureable negative impact on the insect populations sampled this way.

Macro pollinators

Sweep netting and timed visual scans are used to assess the presence and abundance of larger pollinators.

Meter-long sweeps (10-20 per location) with a standard insect net through the flowering vegetation are used to collect insects that are smart enough not to be trapped in the bowls. Again, the insects sampled are killed, labeled and sorted later.

Timed visual assessments (how many of x, y and z are seen per 1 min or 5 min intervals) account for insects that are unlikely to be collected by other methods.

To demonstrate the differences between restored and unrestored plots, the same procedures are conducted in control plots (those with normal vegetation for the area) either by another person or by the person conducting the first sample but in sequence. For example, the pan traps could be placed in one location and then set up in the second location while the first set is catching bees. Then, the first set is picked up while the second set is catching bees. Following that, the areas could be swept and visually sampled. Someone who knows how to conduct such surveys could finish a site in an hour, maybe less. A team of two interns could finish the job in 40 minutes. The time-consuming activities are sorting and identification of specimens.

Monitoring for Monarch Activity

The use of these habitats by monarchs can be assessed by one or more people prior to the other sampling. Each milkweed plant would be visually inspected for eggs and larvae and signs of leaf damage. In the plug plots the species are clumped (4-5 per clump) rather than randomly scattered. Therefore, the 100 milkweeds in each plot would be distributed in 20-25 clumps. The clumps would be flagged and numbered, allowing them to be easily found and assessed on repeated visits.

Much of the above sampling is weather dependent. The egg and larvae surveys can be done under a variety of conditions but there are sunlight, wind and temperature conditions to consider for the other sampling methods.

Sampling would only be conducted at 10-20% of the sites with three visits planned to the selected sites each year. Additional visits might be required if there are specific targets – such as the number of eggs and larvae on milkweeds from 20 July-10 August for areas north of 38°N (northern Kansas). Eggs laid during this period produce the adult monarchs that migrate from the northern breeding areas in August and September.

Funding and Cost Sharing

The costs of this project range from $3.5 to >$10 million, depending on whether the restoration is accomplished with plugs or seeds or some combination of both methods. Public and private funds could be raised to support this project. State (N=6) and federal agencies should be able to provide funds to cover the costs associated with their specific contributions to the project (e.g., administration, supervision, fuel, equipment), up to half the total costs. Additional funds could be obtained through foundations, corporations, businesses, crowdfunding, aluminum drives, pennies for monarchs, and other fundraising solicitations.


This project could start in 2016 with some test plots along I-35, another highway, or even on private land with a modest investment. The complete project would require five years. Restoration would start in the north using plugs at first but transitioning to seeds in places where they are available (mostly in MN and IA) and then progressing southward as funds, plugs and seeds become available.

Potential limitations and barriers to success

This project will require:
1) Strong, centralized leadership with support from federal and state agencies.

2) A well-developed fundraising program.

3) Cooperation among federal and state agencies as well as NGOs and citizens.

4) An assessment of the regulations governing the composition of seed and plug mixes for each state.

5) Support for monitoring efforts and assessment of the data.

6) Publicity designed to draw attention to these efforts and to encourage land management practices that support monarchs and pollinators.


The number of monarchs in Mexico each winter is largely determined by: 1) the number and reproductive success of monarchs reaching Texas and Oklahoma the previous spring, 2) the number and timing for the first-generation monarchs reaching the northern breeding areas (>38°N), and 3) the summer temperatures. The milkweed and nectar plant habitat supporting this population is a funnel-shaped area that widens from Texas to the Canadian border in the Upper Midwest. I-35 extends the length of most of this passageway and therefore is symbolic of what needs to be both maintained and restored in the milkweed/monarch corridor. Establishing monarch/pollinator habitats along the entire length of I-35, along with appropriate signage and publicity (thus creating “The Monarch Highway”) will strongly communicate the need to maintain the integrity of the system that supports monarchs, pollinators, and other species sharing these habitats.

You may download this text as a PDF file.

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Monarchs Over Lake Erie Waters: Citizen Scientist Observations

14 October 2015 | Author: Monarch Watch

Submitted by Candy Sarikonda, Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist

South Bass Island monarch roost at dawn in hackberry trees 2015. Photo by Candy Sarikonda.

Recently, I visited South Bass Island in Lake Erie for a weekend of monarch activities. The Lake Erie Islands are favorite stomping grounds of mine for many reasons, but chief among them is the opportunity to witness the annual fall monarch migration moving through the islands. For over four years, colleagues and I have been working to document monarch activity in the Lake Erie islands region. Through our documentation and the reports of other citizen scientists, we have found evidence that monarchs do cross Lake Erie, and they do so deliberately and successfully.

While scientists are aware that monarchs can cross water, it is not well understood how monarchs cross the lake and under what conditions they will do so. Specific observations are few. Physical conditions such as wind direction, wind speed and temperature during these transits are not well understood. Reports from citizen scientists can serve to increase our understanding of the monarch migration over bodies of water. This article will share the stories of citizen scientists throughout the Great Lakes region, highlighting reports primarily from observers in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, but also a few reports from Lake Michigan.

Why do monarchs cross the Great Lakes?

There is some explanation for this, particularly as it relates to Lake Erie. Dr. Chip Taylor has provided an explanation of monarch movements through southern Ontario, along the north shore of Lake Erie. Dr. Taylor explains, “During the fall migration in southern Ontario, Monarchs cluster together on trees to form overnight roosts in a manner similar to the dense aggregations formed at the overwintering sites. Overnight roosts may contain a few hundred to several thousand individuals, and monarchs usually form clusters in the same areas year after year. The location of overnight roosts is largely determined by topography, and proximity to abandoned farmlands with abundant nectar resources such as fall composites (asters and goldenrods). Monarchs migrating south in the fall through southern Ontario build up in numbers along the north shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Their apparent reluctance to fly over large bodies of water, coupled with the desire to continue moving southwards, probably causes the butterflies to fly southwestward following the shoreline. This inevitably results in large concentrations of monarchs accumulating on peninsulas jutting out into the lakes, where they have little choice but to eventually proceed southward over open water. Large aggregations and overnight roosts occur at many locations on peninsulas and at other locations along the lakeshores, including Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Long Point, Rondeau Provincial Park and Point Pelee National Park.” (

One of the main stopover sites for monarchs migrating along the northern Lake Erie shoreline is Point Pelee, located in Leamington, Ontario, Canada. Each fall, naturalists and observers at Point Pelee National Park report hundreds or thousands of monarchs gathering at the tip of the peninsula, awaiting favorable weather and a good tailwind that will enable them to cross the lake safely. Most often, monarchs gather at the tip ahead of a storm or cold front, or during times when winds from the south create a significant headwind. Monarchs will remain at the tip and nectar as they wait for favorable air temperatures and calmer, more northerly winds. Once the weather is suitable, they will continue their migration across the lake.

Observers have reported the behavior of monarchs as they fly out over the lake. Citizen scientist Darlene Burgess frequently observes monarchs roosting at Point Pelee National Park. Burgess has reported roosts of 4000-5000 monarchs at the tip of the peninsula. She has noticed that northerly winds tend to facilitate the migration, whereas strong southerly winds and storm fronts will cause monarchs to gather at the tip. Burgess shared this observation, “On Saturday, September 19, 2015, a strong storm moved into the area. Winds were from the southwest at 16-18mph with gusts of 23-35mph. Over 5,000 monarchs roosted at the tip. The next morning, winds were from the north at 9 mph. As the sun rose, monarchs roosting on the east side of the trees began basking, and quickly began to disperse. Most were dispersed by 7:45 am. The three largest roosts broke up by 8:30am. The monarchs flew to the shoreline trees, and then began flying out over the water in groups of 6-8 individuals, initially about 60 feet over the water. They appeared to be testing the wind and their strength. Some would fly back to the trees, but the majority continued on. As they continued south over the lake, they flew even higher, up to 100 feet. I was able to watch them for some distance with my star-gazing binoculars. They continued on, flying due south, at a height of about 60-100 feet above water. This continued on until about 12:30pm, when all monarchs were gone from the tip.” She further reports, “I observed on another day with a strong southeasterly wind that the monarchs were leaving low from the shoreline. They were again flying out in groups of 6-8, testing the winds. Most returned to shoreline trees, with only a few continuing on each time. That’s the day I painfully watched two monarchs fly south about a foot over the 1-foot waves…I was so concerned the waves would hit them. I did observe them attempt a higher altitude of 10-15 feet, but not for more than a second or two before returning to their low flight and flying out of view.”

Beall, in 1941, reported his observations of monarchs leaving the shoreline. He noted that “monarchs starting out over the lakes from the shore, flew either with or against the wind.” He felt there was no marked tendency for monarchs to move either with or into the wind, and thus concluded that monarchs were not simply being pushed around and dispersed passively but were instead flying with deliberate purpose. He enlisted the aid of the Southey Shoals lighthouse keeper to document monarch movements over Lake Erie from 1937-1938. The lighthouse is located 7 miles off Point Pelee. The keeper recorded flight direction for monarchs passing by the lighthouse, and data showed a preponderance of monarch flight to the south, with some lesser movement to the southeast (Beall, 1941).

Can monarchs cross Lake Erie successfully?

Directly south of Point Pelee are the Lake Erie Islands, located in the western basin of Lake Erie. My colleagues–naturalists Jackie Taylor of the Lake Erie Islands Nature and Wildlife Center (LEINWC), and Nicole King of the Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory–and I have been actively documenting the monarchs that migrate through the Lake Erie islands since 2011. I have assisted with tagging efforts and worked to locate and photograph fall roosts. Taylor and King have tagged dozens of monarchs at the South Bass Island lighthouse grounds, while also monitoring monarch migratory and reproductive behavior on South Bass Island and the surrounding islands. Taylor and King have documented monarchs reproducing on South Bass Island and Gibraltar Island, and Taylor has observed monarchs reproducing and migrating through Pelee Island, North Bass Island and Middle Bass Island. Taylor, along with Katie Hollenbeck of Stone Laboratory, carried out a tagging effort during September 24-25, 2012. During that 2-day period, winds were 8mph from the southwest, and Taylor and Hollenbeck tagged a total of 236 monarchs that resulted in three recoveries of tagged monarchs at El Rosario. These recoveries provide evidence that monarchs can cross Lake Erie from South Bass Island to the OH shoreline, a distance of three miles, and continue to migrate to Mexico successfully. In addition, I documented 400 monarchs roosting on South Bass Island on September 13, 2014 and again documented a roost of 400 monarchs that formed on the island the evening of September 12, 2015. Clearly, these monarchs were not produced on South Bass Island, strongly suggesting a more northerly, off-island origin. Miller Ferry services the Lake Erie islands, and captains and deckhands report annual observations of monarchs flying over the water toward the OH shoreline, usually at 20-30 feet above the water. Captain Glenn Cooper states, “I usually see 2 or 3 a day during the fall. They fly at the level of the pilot house,” a height of about 25 feet off the water.

Jackie Taylor of LEINWC and Kesari Sarikonda 2012. Photo by Candy Sarikonda.

In addition to evidence reported in the Lake Erie islands, there are reports along the OH shoreline further east of the islands and on the water as well. Jen Brumfield, a naturalist with Cleveland Metroparks, reported a large roost of 4000 monarchs gathered at Wendy Park on Whiskey Island on the evening of September 12, 2015. Wendy Park is located directly on the southern shore of Lake Erie near downtown Cleveland, and has long been known by area residents as an annual stopover site for migrating monarchs. Brumfield reported “…After crossing Lake Erie, thousands upon thousands of the dazzling butterflies arrived on Ohio shores to meet a powerful cold front pushing along the lakefront. High winds and rain forced an extraordinary number of monarchs to seek shelter from the inclement weather.” Interestingly, monarchs gathered at Wendy Park ahead of the same storm and strong west winds that led to the roost formation on South Bass Island that this author documented that same night. Approximately 4000 monarchs also formed several roosts at the tip of Point Pelee that evening.

Jen Brumfield often leads boat tours on Lake Erie searching for rare birds. Brumfield reported her monarch observations, explaining “Many, many times I have witnessed monarchs moving over the lake and coming ashore. On the 5th of September 2015, I ran a boat trip off of Port Clinton that covered open water around the Lake Erie islands. I observed 50+ monarchs that day. On September 16, 2015, I counted 250+ monarchs on a 70-mile offshore survey off Vermillion and Huron. The monarchs were anywhere from 5 to 13 miles offshore, and winds were very light from the southwest (virtually no wind). They were flying about 20-60 feet off the water.”

This evidence is corroborated by Jim McCormac of the OH Department of Natural Resources. He was boating on Lake Erie on September 16, 2015, as part of the group tour led by Jen Brumfield. He was able to photograph one of the monarchs, as it flew south over the lake about 6-8 miles offshore. McCormac explained, “The boat left at 8 am, and returned around 3 pm on September 16, 2015. At our farthest, we probably were around 12 miles out from the mainland, nearing the boundary with Canada. It is about 30-33 miles across Lake Erie at this point (Ohio shore to Canada’s shore). Assuming the butterflies left directly from the Canadian shore, they are making a 30+ mile open water transit. There is a possibility they are island-hopping (islands are about 11 to 15 miles west of the westernmost path that our boat took). Even if they are, it’s still an impressive water crossing, but given that we saw butterflies pretty much throughout the area…it would seem to make more sense that they’re straight-lining it from the Canadian shore.”

Another observer, Alicia Wallace, has also seen monarchs over the open waters of Lake Erie. She serves on an educational tall ship, Appledore IV, which often sails the Saginaw Bay and southern Great Lakes. Wallace reported a monarch sighting over waters west of Pelee Island. She states, “We estimated 25 to 50 butterflies flying around the ship for about 30 minutes between 6am and 7am on September 21, 2014. We had just come out of a fog bank when we saw them. They were flying at boom and mid mast level, so about 12 to 45 feet off the water. It was amazing to see so many monarchs in the middle of the lake.” She further reports a more recent sighting, stating “This week (September 21, 2015) I have seen 10-15 monarchs crossing the Saginaw Bay heading south. This has been around noon and they were only 10-20 feet above water.” Detroit River Hawk Watch has also often reported monarchs flying over the water. Jonathan Stein, lead counter, reports they most often see monarchs flying near the water, but at times the monarchs are also seen quite high with the hawks.

Will monarchs cross Lake Ontario, and can they do so successfully?

The reports of monarchs crossing open water over Lake Erie are further supported by reports of monarch sightings and tag recoveries over Lake Ontario. In searching for evidence of such attempted crossings, this author noted a report by Norman Tremblay of Ontario, Canada, cited in the news of the Lepidopterists’ Society in 1979. Tremblay notes, “In mid-September I was at the Lake Ontario shore east of Ajax. It was a warm morning with a mist rising off the lake. There was practically no wind. A great congregation of monarch butterflies lifted from their overnight roosts and slowly formed a huge tumbling ball of butterflies about the size of a ten-acre field. This enormous mass gathered itself into a tight swarm about 100 feet across and started out south across Lake Ontario some thirty feet above the surface of the water. The annual migration was underway.”

In addition to Tremblay’s report, there is evidence provided by Donald Davis of the Monarch Butterfly Fund. Davis has tagged migrating monarchs at Presqu’ile Provincial Park near Brighton, Ontario, Canada. Davis reports, “When there has been little or no wind in the morning in this park, when the lake is calm and smooth, I have seen monarchs fly out over the lake many times. One time I observed a hawk – a larger hawk such as a red-tailed – flying high and momentarily playing with a monarch over the lake. Perhaps trying to grasp it with its talons. BUT…..a most revealing situation and a one-time observation: the winds appeared to be out of the northeast one day at Presqu’ile, and monarchs had flown out over the lake with a tail wind. THEN….suddenly it became quiet….little wind for perhaps a half hour to an hour…and THEN…..the winds that were part of what must have been a huge circle of a rotating wind system suddenly came from the south or south-west, and all of a sudden, hundreds of monarchs were being blown in to shore from out on the lake. What a magnificent sight! A one-time only sighting.” Davis further reports “I have had reports of boaters way out on Lake Ontario observing monarchs flying south. I have had tag recoveries of monarchs released at Presqu’ile and recovered in Rochester, New York…thus I know that the monarchs set out and try to cross Lake Ontario.” Davis’ tag recoveries include wild monarchs tagged at Presqu’ile Provincial Park and recovered at: Otisco Lake near Marietta, New York; Binghamton, NY; Marcellus, NY; Apalachin, New York; Findley Lake, New York; Olean, New York; and Tully, New York. All of these monarchs were tagged during 1985 and 1988 as part of the Urquhart Insect Migration Association tagging program. Five of these recovery sites are southeast of Presqu’ile Provincial Park, while one is southwest and another is just slightly southwest. Davis did not record prevailing winds at the time, but prevailing winds at Presqu’ile Provincial Park in fall are typically from the west or southwest. Interestingly, Ted McDonald tagged a monarch at Port Hope on the north shore of Lake Ontario and it was recovered in Havana, Cuba.

Are monarchs found over Great Lakes waters during the summer?

Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory staff members have reported seeing monarchs around the Lake Erie islands in summer. Katie Hollenbeck reports, “We see them all the time, flying about 10-15 feet off the water.” Naturalist Jackie Taylor of the Lake Erie Islands Nature and Wildlife Center has documented monarchs reproducing in the islands for the last four years. She reports, “We usually see our first monarchs beginning in late June. Then we see fall migrants move through the islands in mid-September, flying about 20-30 feet over the water between the islands. The southwest tip of South Bass Island is a favorite rooting site for migrating monarchs.”

A very interesting report of summer monarch activity comes from Dave Agazzi, captain of a fishing charter boat on Lake Michigan. Agazzi has been boating on Lake Michigan for 20 years. He sees monarchs in fall, usually in the afternoon boat trips and flying west or southwest. But on July 19, he was stunned to see a huge influx of insects while on a charter from 1:30 to 6:30 pm. The wind was calm, and they were getting bit by flies and seeing insects they had never seen before. Agazzi noted that one monarch flew by about every 1-2 minutes for the five hours he was on the water, headed due west. He was 10-11 miles offshore from Kenosha, WI. The monarchs never landed on the boat, but came close enough that he was certain of their identification. They were flying fast, about 8-20 feet off the water. Red admirals were also flying, and Agazzi described them as also flying fast but more erratically than the monarchs. Dr. Chip Taylor explained the nature of Agazzi’s observation, stating, “This is evidence indicating the beginning of the premigration migration.”

The premigration migration has also been witnessed by this author in the Lake Erie islands, usually during the first two weeks of August. See this article on this author’s premigration experience during August 2013 on South Bass island

So if monarchs can cross Lake Erie, how might they do it?

The flight threshold for monarch butterflies is a thoracic temperature of 55F (Masters, Malcolm & Brower, 1988). Ambient temperatures, along with wind speed and cloud cover conditions, must be suitable to allow for sustained flight across the lake. Notably, lake waters cool much more slowly than surrounding air over land. Surface water temperatures in September for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario range from the high 60s to low 70s. Robert LaPlante, meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service based in Cleveland explains, “Warm air over Lakes Erie and Ontario is present from the middle of July until the middle of October. By mid-October the average surface water temperature has dropped to the mid to upper 50s. During the third quarter of the year (fall), the warm lakes keep the lower few thousand feet of air usually above 60 degrees. The warm air could give monarchs buoyancy over the lake. Sometimes at night there is convergent wind flow of offshore breezes that could produce upward motion over the lake. We could get a line of cumulus clouds and perhaps waterspouts. Lake Erie being the shallowest and the farthest south, gets the warmest of all the Great Lakes so the nocturnal warming or less cooling of the near surface air would be most pronounced over it.” LaPlante further explains, “On a typical sunny day, there normally would not be much rising motion over the lake because it is typically absorbing energy from the sun. During the late summer and early fall, the lake is warmer than the air over the land in the morning so there could be thermals–but what typically happens is that a land or offshore breeze develops at night that moves out over the water and may converge over the center of the lake. This process then reverses in the morning, as the land begins to warm and an onshore breeze develops.” In summary, these warmer air temperatures over the lakes would be sufficient to allow for flight.

Lake Erie can be 30 to 50 miles across. Monarchs could cross that distance using a combination of powered flight and gliding flight. Dr. Chip Taylor explains, “With appropriate cross winds from the northwest, monarchs would get lots of lift and though drifting southeast, would be able to maintain themselves above the surface with minimal effort–a flap, flap every twenty or thirty feet or so. Monarchs have a 3 or 4 to one glide ratio. Meaning that once they gain altitude they can glide 3-4 feet forward for every foot they lose in altitude. If there are tail or quartering winds and the air temperature above the water is high enough–ideally in the mid to high 60s–they should be able to maintain flight with a minimal effort.”

Basking monarchs in roost at South Bass Island 2015. Photo by Candy Sarikonda.

What we know and don’t know about monarch movements over Lake Erie

Based on observations by myself and naturalists in the Lake Erie islands, and reports from other citizen scientists in the region, it is clear that monarchs do cross the open waters of Lake Erie. They do so during the summer, as well as in the fall. They are most often seen flying at 20-60 feet above water, but reports of flight altitude range from 8-100 feet above water. Since most observers cannot see beyond a height of 300 feet above them, it is not clear if monarchs may be migrating over the lake at higher altitudes. Glider pilots have seen monarchs at 10,000 feet, and helicopter pilots servicing oil rigs in the Gulf have seen them at 1000-1200 feet. Are monarchs flying at altitudes over 300 feet above Lake Erie? More evidence is needed. Mark Shieldcastle, Research Director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, recently reported seeing monarchs fly onshore from Lake Erie routinely at 100 to 200 meters altitude, along the Magee Marsh beach area on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Additional reports such as this will provide valuable information for understanding the altitude of the monarch migration over Lake Erie.

Monarchs have been seen by naturalists and citizen observers gathering in roosts at Point Pelee, South Bass Island and Wendy Park in response to approaching storms and strong sustained winds. Most often, monarchs gather in roosts awaiting warmer weather and calmer winds to continue their migration. Northerly winds facilitate this migration. Notably, monarchs will fly out over the lakes from shore with northerly winds, but they will also fly out in a southerly headwind, suggesting they are deliberate in their attempts to fly across the lake. Their flight during the fall migration is most often reported as southward across the lake, as reported by observers in the present day as well as the Southey Shoals lighthouse keeper in 1937-1938. How winds might affect their flight direction over the open water will need further study. It will be important to document body vector (the monarch’s intended flight direction), in relationship to the monarch’s vanishing bearing (the actual direction of its flight).

How winds affect monarch flight behavior is a subject of study now being undertaken by the Marine Monarchs project. Dr. Chip Taylor and Dr. Tracey Villareal have partnered on the project, with the goal of documenting monarch flight behavior over land as well as on water. An app has been created that will allow observers, both on land and water, to record the vanishing bearings and body vectors (headings) of migrating monarchs. To record the bearings and headings the observer positions him or herself directly behind a monarch that is heading away from the observer. By lining up the compass indicator of the app with the long axis of the departing butterfly and touching the tab, the app reads and records the compass direction indicated by the long axis of the butterfly’s body. The vanishing bearing is the compass heading observed as the butterfly disappears from view. Cross-winds will cause the butterfly to drift to the right or left of the intended heading. True headings are most effectively recorded when there is no wind. When the app is complete, each observation will be linked to a site that provides the current wind speed and direction as well as temperature and cloud cover. By recording flight vectors and vanishing bearings throughout the migration under a variety of physical conditions, it should be possible to establish how monarchs respond to these conditions and to obtain a better understanding of how they reach the overwintering sites in Mexico.

If you see monarchs migrating, PLEASE report your sightings to Journey North. Get involved in the Monarch Watch tagging program. Check the Apple App Store for the new Marine Monarchs app (Monarch Migration – Tracking Monarch Butterfly Migration), and consider participating in this new project to document the monarch migration over land and water. Your reports of monarch migratory behavior are needed to unlock the many mysteries of the monarch migration over water!

Resources and References

Journey North news update: Peak for Great Lakes

Point Pelee National Park monarch information

Lake Erie Islands Nature and Wildlife Center newsletter articles regarding monarch migration and reproductive activity in the islands

Photos of monarch roosts on South Bass Island, 2014

Photos of monarch roosts on South Bass Island, 2015

Surface water temperatures for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario

Marine Monarchs project

Climatic wind data for the U.S.

Muscular thermogenesis, flight threshold in insects found in
Hoffmann, K. H. (1985). Environmental physiology and biochemistry of insects. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Beall, G. 1941. The Monarch butterfly, Danaus archippus Fab. II. The movement in southern Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist (Ottowa) 55:133-137

Brower, L., Fink, L., & Walford, P. (2006). Fueling the fall migration of the monarch butterfly. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 1123-1142.

Gibo, D., & Pallett, M. (1979). Soaring flight of monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Danaidae), during the late summer migration in southern Ontario. Can. J. Zool. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 1393-1401.

Gibo, D. (2011). Altitudes attained by migrating monarch butterflies, Danaus p. plexippus (Lepidoptera: Danaidae), as reported by glider pilots. Can. J. Zool. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 571-572.

Masters, A., Malcolm, S., & Brower, L. (1988). Monarch Butterfly (Danaus Plexippus) Thermoregulatory Behavior and Adaptations for Overwintering in Mexico. Ecology, 458-458.

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Monarch Population Status

6 August 2015 | Author: Chip Taylor

It appears that I’ve made another wrong turn. My monarch GPS keeps saying “Recalculating, recalculating.” I get tired of hearing that refrain but when the GPS insists that you are off the preselected path, it’s wise to pay attention.

When I wrote the last “Monarch Population Status” update on the 16th of July, there was evidence of an uptick in the number of adult monarchs being sighted. I used the frequency and locations of these reports to arrive at the general predictions of where the migratory population was likely to be relatively robust (much of the Midwest) and quite weak (Ontario and the Northeast). The number of reports of sightings increased after 16 July and soon thereafter followed reports of eggs – lots of eggs – mostly in the regions previously identified as likely to have a good migration (Dakotas to Michigan). The number of eggs found and the distribution of these finds now leads me to suspect that the migration through the upper Midwest will be better than any migration seen since 2011. This is good news since the tagging, isotope and observational data suggest that more than 90% of the monarchs reaching Mexico originate in this region. You may recall that temperatures during the breeding seasons of 2012 and 2013 were less than ideal, resulting in population declines each year. Last year the conditions were more favorable and I predicted in May that the population would increase. It did, though not by the amount I expected.

I’m encouraged by the egg data. As I’ve mentioned in previous status updates, the size of the migration is strongly influenced by the number of eggs laid between 20 July and 7 August. Most of the butterflies that result from these eggs become non-reproductive and join the migration from late August through early October as it moves progressively southward starting about the 10th of August at 50N (Winnipeg). The 45-day forecast is also encouraging since it suggests that temperatures will be favorable for the development of the migratory generation. If this forecast is more accurate than the one I used to make my predictions in early May – and conditions during the migration are storm-free – the number of monarchs at the overwintering sites could occupy an area of 1.8 – 2.3 hectares. This would be a substantial improvement given that the total last year was 1.13 hectares and that of the previous year was .67 hectares (see figure below). More would be better of course, since the predicted El Niño could take a toll on the population during the latter part of the coming winter.

It will be a battle but we need to get the overwintering numbers up to at least 4 hectares in the coming years to be assured that sufficient numbers survive in the event of catastrophic winter storms such as those occurring in January 2002 and January/February 2004. To reach the 4-hectare goal (or the 6-hectare objective of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service) will require a massive effort to restore milkweeds in the milkweed/monarch corridor that extends from Texas through Minnesota. The weather during the breeding seasons will need to be favorable as well.


Figure: Total Area Occupied by Monarch Colonies at Overwintering Sites in Mexico

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Monarch Population Status

16 July 2015 | Author: Chip Taylor

“Recalculating! Recalculating!” That’s what I hear from the GPS system in my car every time I make a wrong turn. The satellite that is tracking my position has detected that I’ve deviated from the course that my system plotted for me when I entered my destination at the start of the trip. The start of the monarch trip that I plotted for this season directed me to a significant increase in the population. Unfortunately, all the data I have been following since posting my optimistic Monarch Population Status report via our Blog on the 6th of May has told me to recalculate the expectations for the fall migration and the overwintering population. As of this writing (16 July), it appears that the fall migration and the overwintering numbers will be similar to those seen last year (1.13 hectares). A substantial increase in the number of migrants and the area of the forests in Mexico occupied by overwintering monarchs is highly unlikely. I was expecting much better.

My earlier prediction was based on 1) the rate of arrival of overwintering monarchs in Texas and Oklahoma, 2) the temperatures in that region in March and April, and 3) the 45-day forecast that predicted favorable temperatures in May and early June. Although the number of monarchs overwintering in Mexico last year was relatively small by historical standards, the number of monarchs returning from Mexico was encouraging. They also arrived later than usual but moved rapidly into Texas with many monarchs reproducing north of the fire ant zone – an area of intense predation on monarch eggs and larvae by those voracious ants. In the past (1996, 2005, 2010), similar arrival patterns and temperatures have resulted in an increase in the population. But, then came May and the bottom fell out. Those favorable temperatures predicted in the 45-day forecast didn’t materialize. Rather, it rained and rained and rained with lower than predicted temperatures. The news reports during May and June were filled with stories of record rains and flooding throughout the South Region (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas). Moisture-laden air masses swept in from the Pacific across the Southwest – typical of what is often seen as a result of an El Niño in the Pacific and an El Niño did form in late winter (see “Record Strong El Niño Ahead?“). Similarly, moisture swept into Texas and Oklahoma from the Gulf and in Kansas some moisture arrived from the northwest. The forecast didn’t account for these events.

Due to the lower temperatures encountered by the first generation monarchs moving north and northeast during May and early June, the arrival in the northern breeding area was delayed and less than optimal. Monarchs reached Minnesota and portions of western Wisconsin late and in modest numbers, the arrivals east of central Wisconsin were delayed even more and the numbers of first sightings reported to Journey North was quite low. It was worse for the Northeast with few monarchs being seen until well into June. My monarch recalculations now tell me that the number of monarchs in the fall migration will be similar to those seen and tagged last year from the eastern Dakotas to perhaps western Michigan. Lower numbers will be seen from eastern Michigan to western Pennsylvania and still lower numbers will be found in the northeast. And the migration will be late. This will be the third later than normal (as defined by migrations from 1992-2012) in as many years. Why the migration has been late the last three years is not clear. Do these late migrations reflect long-term changes in the weather patterns that drive the monarch numbers or are they due to a series of chance events? Time will tell. Whatever the case, these late migrations show us that the migration and population growth throughout the breeding season are driven by the temperatures and rainfall that occur from the moment monarchs leave the overwintering sites (late February through early April) to the time the last monarchs arrive at the overwintering sites (December).

That said, the numbers of monarchs we’re seeing now are also a reflection of the amount and quality of milkweed and nectar plant habitat that remains for the breeding population. Loss of habitat is a topic I’ve covered many times. For a discussion of this topic and what needs to be done to address these losses, please read my Monarch Butterfly Recovery Plan memo.

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Free Milkweeds for Restoration Projects

4 June 2015 | Author: Monarch Watch

Through funding provided by Monsanto, we will be able to offer 100,000 free milkweed plugs for large-scale restoration projects in June and September of 2015 and through spring and fall 2016. Applicants for these free plugs are asked to describe the site. We would like to know the type of habitat (roadside, old field, prairie restoration, etc.), its location (including a picture and approximate latitude and longitude), along with a brief description how the site will be maintained. We would also appreciate it if your group would provide us with pictures taken during or after the planting. While the plugs are free, the recipients must agree to cover the modest shipping costs described below. For more information on Monsanto’s monarch program please visit:

If you or someone you know is interested in free milkweeds for large-scale restoration projects, complete details are available here or here.

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Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

3 June 2015 | Author: Monarch Watch

The White House posted this advisory online yesterday:

First Lady Michelle Obama To Harvest The White House Kitchen Garden, Highlight Pollinators
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Washington, DC * 3:30 PM – The First Lady will welcome students from across the country who participate in the ten Let’s Move! sub-initiative programs to harvest the White House Kitchen Garden. In 2009, Mrs. Obama planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn to initiate a national conversation around the health and wellbeing of our nation—a conversation that evolved into her Let’s Move! Initiative.

This garden harvest will highlight the important role of pollinators in the healthy food that we grow and consume. Last year, Mrs. Obama planted a pollinator garden next to the White House Kitchen Garden to support bees, monarch butterflies, and other pollinators as part of Administration efforts to promote pollinator health. Pollinators play a critical role in supporting agricultural production, and they are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we take. Because pollinators are facing disturbing signs of decline from a variety of causes, important efforts are underway to support pollinator health and habitat.

In addition to strategies and recommendations outlined by the Administration’s Pollinator Health Task Force, outside organizations have stepped up to support pollinators. This year, W. Atlee Burpee & Co. donated one million pollinator seed packets to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior to encourage people to plant pollinator gardens in communities across the country. Nearly 30,000 of these seed packets were distributed to families at this year’s Easter Egg Roll.

As well, the newly established National Pollinator Garden Network is launching on Wednesday the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help revive the health of pollinators. More information on this challenge will be available at Wednesday’s event.

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

To help her with the harvest, Mrs. Obama invited children from schools and locations that participate in the ten Let’s Move! programs, representing the millions of Americans that have been impacted by the Let’s Move! Initiative. Children from each of these programs also joined the First Lady at this year’s garden planting in April. These programs (full list here) were launched in collaboration with federal agencies, businesses, and non-profits to mobilize every sector to work in alignment with the overall goals of Let’s Move! and offer solutions, objectives, and technical assistance to help kids and families lead healthier lives.

The event will be livestreamed at

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Monarch Population Status

6 May 2015 | Author: Chip Taylor

“Monarch Futures”

If there were such a thing as Monarch Futures* on the market right now, I’d buy all I could. The immediate future for monarchs looks bright – there is a good chance the population will increase this year. Last year during the first week of May I predicted the monarch population would increase in 2014 and it did. The total area of trees occupied by monarchs in Mexico (1.13 hectares) was less than expected but it was still an improvement over the all-time low recorded in the winter of 2014 (0.67 hectares). Fortunately, during the overwintering period (November-March) for both years the weather was relatively normal and the monarchs wintered well.

Monarchs begin moving north at the end of February in some years with small numbers arriving in Texas close to 7 March. The timing of the departure evidently depends on the local weather conditions and the movement north can be delayed by weeks. That was the case this year, with a first wave of monarchs arriving in Texas three weeks later than normal. The arrival of monarchs in Texas has been delayed in the past by weather conditions that were similar to those seen this spring in Mexico and Texas – notably in 1996, 2005 and 2010. And guess what – in all three of those years, the population increased. In fact, they were the three biggest increases seen from 1996 through 2014. That sounds promising but it’s not a guarantee. The first generation monarchs (offspring of those returning from Mexico) still have to reach the northern breeding areas. Though I’m reasonably confident the population will increase, I’m worried about what would happen if 1) the size of the first generation moving north is smaller than expected or 2) they arrive too late in the northern breeding areas (as happened in 2013). If either or both of these occur, the magnitude of the fall migration and the size of the subsequent overwintering population might not increase.

Looking ahead, the weather forecasts for the next 45 days appear to favor the northward movement of first generation monarchs. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that good numbers of these butterflies reach the upper Midwest by the end of May.

While I’m optimistic about this season, the long-term scenario for monarchs remains in doubt. As you all know, habitat loss since 1996 – an area estimated to equal the size of Texas – has reduced milkweed/monarch habitat to the point where it is unlikely that even under the best of conditions overwintering numbers will exceed 4 hectares. An overwintering population of 4 hectares is too few given the potential for catastrophic mortality during the winter months combined with unfavorable conditions during the breeding season (as occurred from 2011-2013).

Further, there is the issue of annual losses of habitat. I’ve estimated these several different ways and have consistently come up with losses of 1-1.5 million acres per year. It’s clear – unless we restore at least a million acres of milkweed/monarch habitat a year, monarchs will continue to lose ground. Milkweed/monarch restoration is underway with the help of federal agencies, corporations, Universities, NGOs and individuals pitching in – yet the scale of these efforts is still small relative to the need.

It brings to mind the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who tells Alice:

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

Clearly, we need to restore more than a million acres per year – run twice as fast – to Bring Back The Monarchs.

*DEFINITION of ‘Commodity Futures Contract’
An agreement to buy or sell a set amount of a commodity at a predetermined price and date. Buyers use these to avoid the risks associated with the price fluctuations of the product or raw material, while sellers try to lock in a price for their products. Like in all financial markets, others use such contracts to gamble on price movements.

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Monarch Watch and the 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll

3 April 2015 | Author: Jim

National Park Foundation


Monarch Watch Joins with the National Park Foundation to Support the 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll


WASHINGTON (April 3, 2015) Monarch Watch announced today that it will contribute to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to support the 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll.

The White House Easter Egg Roll takes place in President’s Park on the South Lawn of the White House. This year’s theme, “#GimmeFive,” encourages Americans across the country to share five things they are doing to eat better, be more active, and lead a healthier life, and supports the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to help kids grow up healthy and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Monarch Watch is meeting the #GimmeFive challenge by: 1) inspiring kids to get outside and garden for monarchs and other pollinators, 2) encouraging people to plant milkweeds to increase the monarch population, 3) helping people draw connections between pollinators and our food system, 4) teaching kids about the importance of native habitats and 5) spreading the love for butterflies.

In addition, the official White House Easter Eggs, sold by the National Park Foundation and benefiting America’s national parks, are available at

Find more information about the National Park Foundation at Join the national park community by visiting and

Monarch Watch strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies and their spectacular migration, education about the need to create habitats for monarchs, and ways to use monarchs to further science education in schools. Monarch Watch leads the nationally recognized Monarch Waystation certification program and the Bring Back the Monarchs program, designed to address issue of restoring milkweeds to our landscape. Help Bring Back the Monarchs! Plant milkweed and nectar plants! Visit our website for more information:

The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help PROTECT more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts, CONNECT all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history, and INSPIRE the next generation of park stewards. Find out more and become a part of the national park community at


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Free Lecture: Bringing Nature Home

17 February 2015 | Author: Monarch Watch

Douglas Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home: How you can sustain wildlife with native plants” is coming to Lawrence, KS on March 21st. It promises to be an inspiring evening. Monarch Watch has taken the lead to bring Douglas to the University of Kansas and coordinate the event, with the sponsorship of several other amazing organizations. The flyer below is also available in PDF format – please feel joint pain free to print and distribute it. We’ve also created a Facebook event so please feel free to share that as well.

tallamy lecture

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